Friday, July 27, 2012

Wisdom and Authority

New Zealand is now poised to join other Western nations debating gay 'marriage' because a Private Members [Member of Parliament] bill proposing legalising gay 'marriage' has been drawn from the ballot and will be debated soon in our parliament. One of a number of possible news reports is here. How will Christians respond to the reality of this debate?

I suggest two important aspects to our response: wisdom and authority.

Wisdom is finding ways to affirm what is affirmable and to question what is questionable. At all times wisdom is the refusal to accept false alternatives, poor arguments, misconceptions and the like. Authority is engaging with the differing but connected authorities involved in questions concerning the dignity of human beings. Parliament has the authority to propose, consider, debate, revise and finally resolve legislation. Christians seek generally to abide by legitimate authority (and sometimes have an appalling track record of not opposing illegitimate authority) yet always live under the authority of God as Lord of all lords and King of all kings.

I guess this may not be the only post on this debate over the next weeks and months so the following few thoughts are not intended to constitute a comprehensive reflection on the matters at hand.

Affirming what is affirmable: whatever else is going on in the push for gay 'marriage', people in same sex partnership are asking for equality of treatment around matters such as property, inheritance, next of kin status which (as far as I can see) can be affirmed by Christians.

Questioning what is questionable: I suggest there are some hidden consequences in the push for gay 'marriage' in terms (as in the linked report above) of 'equality' which need bringing to the light for debate, for questioning because there are some questionable matters here.

One question concerns whether, post legalising gay 'marriage', any discrimination between marriages (i.e. straight/gay) will be possible? Discrimination is a loaded term here but let's not euphemise it away with other words such as 'distinctive/distinguishing'. In public debate no one (I suspect) wants to raise such questions as it is politically incorrect to talk of discrimination, but might (to give an obvious example here) churches wish to be able to discriminate? For instance to be able to ask of the person applying to be the minister of a church whether 'married' in their CV means married to a person of the opposite or same gender?

Another question concerns adoption of children. Now I get it that a blanket ban on same sex couples adopting children doesn't work in various ways (e.g. it might deprive an unwanted-by-any-other-couple child of a loving home, it would forbid a reasonable proposal that a once married-now-widowed man who marries another man from having his own natural children adopted by his new partner). I also get it that married couples have the right to adopt. But is there not also a right of children to have the opportunity to be raised by a dad and a mum? To recognise this right is not necessarily to trump other rights, but should it be kept in sight rather than lost in rhetoric about gay parents being just as good as straight parents etc? All things being equal about a prospective adoption is it unreasonable to suggest that the right to be raised by a mum and a dad outweighs the rights of two men or two women to adopt?

What about authority? Last night I voted against legalising gay 'marriage'. I am not a politician but I am on Facebook! Why vote against? Because I am not convinced that God has authorised humanity to change the definition of marriage in respect of the genders involved. Parliament has authority but in Christian understanding it is an authority derived from God's authority. To that higher authority I look in vain for the disclosure or revelation of a new understanding of marriage.

For Anglicans this talk of authority may or may not wash. Already on Facebook I have seen one colleague make a comment which effectively translates as, the church needs to catch up with what Parliament is likely to decide. Fancy that! But what is unsurprising about such a comment is that it involves a muddled sense of what constitutes authority within a shared Anglican understanding and appreciation of authority. Appropriately we now have Michael Poon's latest Anglican essay available via Fulcrum. Entitled 'A Vision for the Fellowship of Anglican Churches', Michael touches on authority in these words,

"Most Anglican undertakings lack ecclesial consistency, especially those at international levels. Discussion and decision in international meetings do not carry any weight at local levels; ecclesiastical policies vary with change of leadership; Communion-level undertakings are mainly fund-dependent and therefore short-term by nature. The ecclesial deficit that the Windsor Continuation Group identifies in fact is endemic beyond the Communion structures, to the 'five marks of mission,' the rationale of qualification of Communion membership, and the 'autonomous province' concept. To Christopher Dawson (and John Henry Newman), this deficit goes to the heart of the Church of England: it lacks a proper authority structure. (See Adam Schwartz's discussion on Christopher Dawson in The Third Spring: G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones, 202-285.) 
Shorn of a coherent intellectual and theological account, global Anglicanism is therefore bound to collapse, and is at risk of splintering into tribalism. Remarkably, over the past decades the creative ecclesiological reflection in ecumenical conversation had not fed into the Communion-structure-building exercises." [my bold] 
But the fact that broadly speaking Anglicanism suffers from a malaise about authority does not mean, dear reader, that you and I need be afflicted by it. Anglicanism suffers that malaise where it refuses to engage with what authority has meant for Anglicanism, both in the sense of the distinctive birth of modern Anglicanism (i.e. the Reformation) and in the sense of 'what many Anglicans have subscribed to'. The authority of which I speak is precisely the authority of Scripture, informed by Tradition and influenced, but not negated by Reason.


Onwards and upwards to the sunny uplit lands of being Christian (and Anglican) in this strange new world of the 21st century!






22 comments:

Andrei said...

This is Orwellian.

The real target is marriage, as we know it and the Church.

Just yesterday the famous theologian David Cameron came out and said the Church has to gt with the 21st century on this matter.

In the USA the president of Chick-fil-A is under sustained assault for affirming his company's commitment to traditional marriage in a Christian publication.

We are soothingly told that the Church will not have to compromise its position over marriage.

If you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.

Sooner or later someone will ask a conservative priest or minister for a wedding and when refused the media will be used to demonize said minister or priest - the target will be carefully chosen to be or who will easily be intimidated in the public glare.

Or human "rights" legislation will be deployed and regulations passed which will see traditional Christians unable to act as marriage celebrants.

We are seeing these things play out on a daily basis.

This is evil, it undermines child rearing as a fundamental human activity - which if not done properly and in an orderly manner is a civilization ender.

Father Ron Smith said...

"This is evil, it undermines child rearing as a fundamental human activity - which if not done properly and in an orderly manner is a civilization ender." - Andrei

This statement is surely based on Fear and not Love. With so many heterosexual marriages ending in divorce these days, children of such a failed relationships are unable to be parented by their natural mother and father in a loving, stable relationship. Any attempt to offer a loving stable home for such children is surely a matter of follwing Christ in the gospel: "Insomuch as you did this for one of these my little ones, you did it as to Me".

Negativity in the face of inevitable changes in the world we actually live in cannot be called 'Good'. To believe that God would not bless the monogamous, loving relationship of two people who want to live together in faithful life-long relationship could, itself, be evil. The Church is in the business of enabling 'Life in ALL its fullness' - as has been mentioned before on this site.

For anyone to consider that the situation of Marriage is not open to new ways of perception from that which has gone before, is to say that God is unwilling to, or incapable of, accepting loving relationship of same-gender couples as being capable of featuring the elements of agape that have always been the mark of Marriage. Not all marriages are capable of producing children; but all loving, faithful marriages are capable of nurturing children - some better than others.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Shorn of a coherent intellectual and theological account, global Anglicanism is therefore bound to collapse, and is at risk of splintering into tribalism."

- Peter Carrell (via Michael Poon)

With the evidence of schismatic tendencies - such as Border-Crossing, non-attendance at Lambeth and the formation of other Churches such as ACNA AMIE etc. - tribalism has already occurred. This is why the Covenant initiative was doomed to failure.

GAFCON already moved away from Canterbury and the rest of us when it raised up its own theological basis: 'The Jerusalem Statement'.

What remains now, for the rest of the Communion, is to find ways of pragmatically agreeing to living together in Unity & Diversity. This is the way of classical Anglicanism

Jethro said...

Ron, why should our benchmark be what non-Christians think is good? Many people think that it is good to make huge amounts of money at the expense of other people and then tell us they are just living 'life in ALL its fullness'.

This debate is for those who worship at the alter of the secular; those who believe that there is such as thing as unbiased and neutral rationality that is autonomous from he who gives all definition and truth.

As Christians are we not committed to the historic faith that has been handed down to us from the Apostles?
Should we even bother debating our side or just let the pagans get on with it?

Martin Davies said...

It seems to me that the removal of the Church as a marriage officiating agency of the state is worth considering. The end of Fr Andrew Sempell's response to the Arcgbishop of Sydney outlines such a possibility.
http://www.sjks.org.au/images/stories/home/sempell_response_to_redefining_marriage.pdf

Shawn said...

No Ron, Andrei's position is based on courage and Biblical love, rather than the political compromise and fear (of being labeled as a hater) that liberals confuse with Gospel imperatives.

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

Anglicanism suffers from the ailment I have mentioned any number of times on this weblog - a refusal to define and defend the boundaries of orthodoxy. You can't cover up doctrinal incompatibility with appeals to fellowship and relationship and authority.

Religion is first and foremost about Truth. Two mutually-exclusive truth systems cannot occupy the same religion. The impending collapse in view is merely the logical outworking of the struggle between those two competing religious for dominance of the institution they both share.

Division is coming one way or another. You can control it, or you can be controlled by it. What you cannot do is stop it. The two competing visions of Christianity in Anglicanism cannot coexist. One or the other must go.

carl

Shawn said...

Ron,

Only God can change the nature of marriage, as he created It.

Your "new ways of thinking" is just a cover for liberal ideology.

On what evidence and by what authority does your claim rest?

Shawn said...

As an adoptee I thank God that I was adopted by a mother and father.

The liberal claim that because some marriages fail we can just dump children into any fashionable arrangement is facile in the extreme.

It is certainly not an expression of Gospel love as Ron claims, It is in fact cruel, selfish and evil, It forces children into a radically untested arrangement which could be, and likely is, psychologically damaging. And for no better reason than the irrational liberal devotion to unlimited sexual freedom.

Liberalism is a disease in the body of the Church and the West. The Biblical Gospel and the Sovereign rights of Christ the King is the only cure.

Father Ron Smith said...

"To hold on the one hand that we must follow the modern worlds epistemological foundations and notions of "reason", and on the other still claim to hold to the doctrines of the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection, and the real presence of Christ in the elements, involves a level of cognitive dissonance that makes secular liberals look like amateurs."
- An 'amateur theologian' -

The Angel Gabriel To the BVM:

"For nothing is impossible for God"

I proffer the opinion here that the diatribe offered at the head of this posting is mute evidence of what epistemology (for its author) is really all about - the self-belief that one's own opinion is 'gospel'. A sort of gnosticism that fools no-one but the author.

FYI, Shawn, my theology is founded on practical experience - not only book knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is for life. Divorce and “remarriage” is Orwellian.

The real target is marriage, as we know it and the Church.

We are soothingly told that the Church will not have to compromise its position over marriage. We have been told it will not be required to “marry” divorcees.

If you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.

Sooner or later someone will ask a conservative priest or minister for a wedding and when refused the media will be used to demonize said minister or priest - the target will be carefully chosen to be or who will easily be intimidated in the public glare.

Or human "rights" legislation will be deployed and regulations passed which will see traditional Christians unable to act as marriage celebrants.

We are seeing these things play out on a daily basis.

This is evil, it undermines child rearing as a fundamental human activity - which if not done properly and in an orderly manner is a civilization ender.

Alison

Anonymous said...

Andrei is right. There is a sustained, ideologically-based and anti-Christian attack on marriage and the family, spearheaded by the movement to mainstream homosexual desire. It goes hand in hand with the destruction of religious freedom and conscience in the West, in the name of a reified "equality" and "hate crimes". Those who cannot see this, or imagine we are somehow entering a new era of Christian truth and 'liberty', are either useful idiots or willfully blind, as well as ignorant of catholic theology on marriage and the family.
"Gay adoption" is one part of this jigsaw: deliberately depriving children of a mother and father and placing them in homosexual households and homosexual sub-cultures. The result is confusion to the child, and a heightened risk of harm. It is state-sponsored child abuse.

Suem said...

I did find some of the comments on adoption strange. For example,

"But is there not also a right of children to have the opportunity to be raised by a dad and a mum?"

In the UK, we have long allowed single people to adopt children (I guess NZ is the same?) and I have never heard traditionalist christians complain or raise the "right to a mum and dad" argument. I have never known traditionalist Christians suggest that a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy on her own should terminate on the basis of her unborn child's "right to a mum and dad". I have never heard a suggestion that children should be taken away when a marriage breaks up and given to a "mum and a dad" couple. So, although a (good) mum and dad set up is a great advantage, it has never before been seen as such a pressing "right" that it overcomes other considerations - until gay people are involved! So why the sudden concern? Prejudice, perhaps?

Also, remember, there are children who are in that traditional heterosexual, married, "mum and a dad" set up who are sexually ( or physically) abused. A father who abused them is worse than no father. Yes, Shawn is glad he was adopted by a man and woman - which is great. I know children who are glad they were adopted by a gay couple- as they said to me, "It's taught me tolerance and they couldn't have been better parents."

I'd like all children to have a "perfect family" - but there is no such thing!!! I want children to have good families, as far as is possible, and there are much, much, much worse family scenarios(most of them heterosexual) out there for children than the prospect of a loving, stable, same sex family.

Suem said...

And anyway, the same sex marriage thing won't make any difference to the adoption of children by gay couples because THIS ALREADY HAPPENS WITHOUT GAY MARRIAGE ( or it does in the UK.) So, why introduce it in this post on same sex marriage?
As for the other comments - well, I can understand the concerns that those opposed to gay marriage have. All I can say is that there are many civil marriages that traditionalist Christians already presumably do not recognise as valid - such as those conducted after divorce (not involving adultery of the other spouse.)I sincerely hope Churches will never be sued or be compelled to carry out same sex marriages - or marriage of divorcees- against their wishes. In both cases, I would object.

Shawn said...

Ron, the only person using a gnostic approach to revelation and who confuses their own opinion.for the Gospel is you, a fact which has been highlighted by Martin,Carl,Bryden and myself in recent posts.

To claim "experience" over solid systematic theology is just more roof of that.

It is also a silly statement because everyone brings their life experience to the task of theological reasoning, not just you.

However I do not confuse my opinion for epistemology. My epistemological foundation is the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ attested to by the witness of Scripture.

I allow and indeed submit to the authority of God's Word, not to my own opinion, and not, as liberals do, to the political ideologies and fashions of the times.

As far as I can see, based on part on your own words, the epistemological foundation for liberals is whatever the modern, secular Western world thinks. Certainly it is not the revelation of God. Scripture is only brought in as an afterthought to be cherry picked for a few out of context quotes that are used (abused) to try and justify the conclusions liberal Christians have already come to.

This process is intellectually and theologically dishonest, and is in reality, not obedience to the Gospel, but a political and cultural subversion of it.

Andrei said...

Dear Fr Ron;
The Church's teaching on marriage as it has been throughout the ages is not Gnosticism.

On the other hand "modern understandings of gender" in all its alphabetical glory, GLBTIQ......
positively reeks of Gnosticism

Shawn said...

Suem,

The number of gay couples looking to adopt is likely to be so small that it really makes no difference to the issue of children needing adoption. This issue is only being raised as yet another dishonest smokescreen to justify Liberal dogma on issues of marriage and family.

I have read critiques of single parent adoption by social conservatives.

As you say the world is not perfect. And not all children will have the blessing of a stable, loving married mum and dad.

But that is no reason to make things worse by subjecting children to a radical and ideologically driven social experiment, let alone using orphans as pawns in the liberal war against tradition and family.

Father Ron Smith said...

For a fresh perspective on the matter of the definition of marriage, one could do no better than click on the following link (per Martin Davies):

http://www.sjks.org.au/images/stories/home/sempell_response_to_redefining_marriage.pdf

As Sue reminds us there are other views of what the Marriage/Adoption issue is all about - from the larger perspective of the U.K. It behoves all of us to remember that these matters affect far more Anglicans (and others) in the wider world than just in Aotearoa/NZ. We need to read more widely on the matters that irritate us, and try to see how other people think.

Anonymous said...

"But that is no reason to make things worse by subjecting children to a radical and ideologically driven social experiment, let alone using orphans as pawns in the liberal war against tradition and family."

I have to agree with you, Shawn. The change was not driven by the need to care for the legions of unwanted children but by anti-Christian, ideological 'egalitarian' passion. Everyone knows children thrive better with a father and a mother. The intolerant homosexualist movement has caused the closure of Catholic adoption agencies in several countries. This is one of the bitter fruits of the modern war against Christ.
Martin

Shawn said...

"We need to read more widely on the matters that irritate us, and try to see how other people think."

Speaking for myself I do read widely on important matters, and from a variety of points of view. I have read several books and many articles that take a pro-gay theological position.

But in the end the arguments are just not convincing, thus, to quote Martin Luther, unless I am convinced by Scripture and reason, hear I stand. I can do no other.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
All sorts of parenting arrangements work, mostly because they simply have to. A widowed parent doesn't choose to be widowed and so forth. My point about a right to be brought up by a mum and a dad could perhaps have been better expressed with the addition of a phrase such as "where possible." In respect of gay adoption my point would simply be that all things being equal re a prospective adoption, an adoption agency should have freedom to choose the advantage of a couple providing 'mum and dad' parenting over an adoption where that would not be provided. But marriage 'equality', I suggest, will forbid such bias towards diverse parenting.

MichaelA said...

"It behoves all of us to remember that these matters affect far more Anglicans (and others) in the wider world than just in Aotearoa/NZ."

That is very true. Liberals should think carefully about the effect on the millions of Anglicans in the world, before insisting that Western law be changed to suit their view of marriage.